Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Martina Reilly

Martina Reilly has had many careers. She’s been a supermarket packer (she knows you can’t put a loaf of bread in with a packet of bleach), a lounge girl (she can avoid a grope at close quarters), she even worked in her local council. Nothing, however gives her as much pleasure as the job she has now – it involves drinking lots of coffee and concocting elaborate lies. No, she’s not a politician, she’s a writer. To date, she has written nineteen novels, including four for young adults. Her books have been translated into many languages and have won prizes (A Bisto Book Merit Award, an RAI reading award, an International White Raven Award, and Something Borrowed was long-listed for an Impac award).

Martina also writes scripts, plays and poetry. She has dabbled in journalism. She acts and has also directed plays (mostly her own, because she’s a control freak) Her long-term ambition is to write a sit-com and in 2013, she and her friends got together and produced a demo dvd of her first venture – Headers. In her spare time, Martina walks her dog, acts with her local drama group, runs with her local athletic club (she was the All-Ireland Masters W3 champion in 2014 in the 200m and held the 60m indoor record). Sadly her knees are letting her down bigtime now! Martina hopes to keep writing in the hope that people will keep reading her books.

Nineteen novels, Martina. Impressive! So tell us, where did it all begin?

I have been writing since I could read. I started ‘seriously’ when I was eight, scribbling little stories into my school copies. When I was fifteen, I wrote a book called Livewire, which was about a boy called Joey who was in a band, much to the horror of his dad who wanted him to study for his exams. Even back then I recognised that there was something special about this story. When I was in my twenties, I had the money to buy a word processor and type it all up. This is the book that was eventually published.

And did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?

Enid Blyton was the first writer I read and I just loved the idea that you could make a living creating stories. I think I was born a writer really, I needed no encouragement!

How would you describe your writing, from a marketing perspective?

My work is marketed in the ‘women’s commercial fiction’ genre. I have no idea what that is as each time I write a book, the stories are vastly different. My latest one ‘That Day in June’ is about a homeless runaway and a mentally ill man. I just like to write about people, what makes them who they are and to allow the reader some understanding of what it means to be human. There are pretty good plots to.

And the length of time it takes you to complete a book?

It depends on the book. On average, it takes about a year, though I did write my second YA novel in two weeks – Fast Car. That was a goodie.

How is your writing day structured?

I write most days between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm – which is when my daughter comes home from school. I rarely write on weekends or during summer. I’ve been lucky so far in that I seem to be always able to finish a book within these parameters. Friends are very important to me so I’m not your stereotypical writer who abandons her friends and morning coffee in favour of an elusive chapter. I really believe that the best of writing comes easy, so a morning off to have coffee with my friend will not derail my work.

Do you have an agent, or think one is necessary?

I do have an agent and yes, I do think, certainly in publishing that you need one. An agent ensures that your work gets read by editors in publishing houses. A lot of publishers only accept manuscripts from agents so the places a writer can send their own work is very limited. Even if a publishing house accepts manuscripts from a writer directly, there is often a long wait before the scripts will get read.

And do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

Absolutely, yes. I think that’s a reflection on the modern way of doing things – writers need to be their own PR machine. It’s not something that I enjoy as I’d much rather be writing, but it can be fun coming up with creative ways to get seen!

What’s your opinion of the publishing trade these days?

Book selling has changed so much in the last while. Ebooks are making their mark, but I don’t believe that printed copies will ever vanish. My route to publication seems hopelessly old-fashioned now – if I had to do it again, I guess I’d have to be a vologger (or whatever it’s called). God help the world then…!

Indeed, Vologging could become a thing! Would you also consider self-publishing?

I think it’s brilliant if done well. Of course I would. I love writing and I will write forever – a bit like that irritating kid who insists at singing at parties whether she’s wanted or not! If I don’t get published ever again, I will self-publish.

And literary competitions and awards?

It’s nice to be recognised but honestly, I don’t put any store by them. I’ve read prize-winning novels and hated them. I mean, really, really hated them. It doesn’t mean they were bad books, but they were not for me. I’ve also read books that have never caused a ripple on the publishing scene and been very moved by them. A good book for me is one where great writing and great characters combine. Sometimes I think books are picked for the cleverness and that irritates me.

If you’ve ever had any: How do you handle negative reviews?

I have had one bad experience with a review. I’ve also had critical reviews. The trick is learning the difference. Critical reviews  enable you to learn. I am always open to people’s opinion of my work, I don’t mind if they dislike it if I find out why. A bad review on the other hand, is an assassination job in which the book is shot down in a hail of smart comments. They sting but as my mother always says, ‘There’s a reason people behave that way. Be kind’.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The best bit of advice I can give, besides ‘just do it’ is – be yourself. Don’t try to ape anyone, don’t try to be funny, or pull at heart-strings, or scare people. Just write and be honest to the story. Put yourself and your voice on the page.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I’m not sure. Starting off it’s good advice, but I tend to write about what I want to figure out, or what I’d like to learn about or what I find interesting. I think better advice – if it interests you, write about it.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

So many….The Poisonwood Bible, What is the What, The Patchwork Planet…

And finally, Martina, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I am doing a book called ‘The Scent of Apples’ – it’s about corruption and evil in a small town. (I think!)


Check out Martina’s website here